Dewas, Madhya Pradesh:
Muslim shopkeepers in Madhya Pradesh’s Dewas have been threatened with violence for stocking and selling firecrackers named after Hindu gods or goddesses – crackers that were cheerfully purchased and burst in Diwalis past, and packaging that the shop owners have no control over.
Shocking videos have emerged online showing gangs of men – some of whom have saffron-coloured scarves wrapped around their necks – barging into shops and warning the owners of dire consequences if they continue selling such products.
In one such video two men can be heard warning a Muslim shopkeeper that “if even one Lakshmi bomb or Ganesh bomb is sold from this shop, we will be forced to do things you won’t like”.
The owner of the shop, visibly scared by the threats and intimidation, repeatedly promises to do as he is told and, as the thugs leave, folds his hands and begs: “Please don’t be angry… please.”
Before the men leave, one refers to the cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad by a French publication, which has triggered controversy worldwide. “One cartoon is made and so much fuss happens. We are also not immune (to disrespecting religious faith). During NRC protests Muslim shops were forced to shut . This is the truth. If you are against the nation, we are against you,” he says.
The shopkeeper, wary of provoking violence, mumbles: “No, no, nothing like that”.
Another video, re-tweeted by Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, shows a gang of men – again with saffron-robed scarves around their necks – arguing with an elderly Muslim shopkeeper, who is warned that if he sells the firecrackers in question his shop will be set on fire.
The shopkeeper can be heard explaining, as are others in similar videos, that they neither make the products or decide on the packaging, but their comments are overruled.
In his tweet Digvijaya Singh demanded that the district administration take action against those who threatened innocent shopkeepers. Dewas Collector Chandramauli Shukla later said inquiries are underway.
“It has been brought to my notice that some people went to shops and threatened shopkeepers. I have asked police to investigate. The investigation will be in accordance with guidelines,” he said.
On Wednesday Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the sale of firecrackers with images of deities or gods will be banned and strict legal action would be taken against violators.
Meanwhile, firecrackers have been banned, temporarily, in a few states and national capital Delhi this year, as part of efforts to control air pollution and minimise the spread of the coronavirus.
Madhya Pradesh is among 18 states and union territories asked to respond on the issue of firecracker-caused pollution. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has said it is considering a wider order prohibiting the use of firecrackers to protect the health of the vulnerable groups.
With input from PTI